Rodney Anonymous checks in with his views on the union of humor and music.
Being both a victim (although I prefer to use the term “survivor”) and perpetrator of humor in music, has granted me the insight to develop a two-fold theory about the why certain people feel the need to combine music with comedy. For the sake of the following discussion, these theories shall be referred to below as The Weird Al Yankovic Theory and The Frank Zappa Theory, or, if you like, “Theory Y” and “Theory Z” (Please not that both of these theories pertain to INTENTIONALLY humorous acts as opposed to performers like Sarah McLachlan who, although her lyrics never fail to make me laugh, is not actually trying to be funny.
Here is what the two theories hold in common: Just as cartooning has been described as a compromise between the desire to draw well and the inability to do so (or, possibly, the desire to draw dicks on a men’s room wall), it’s entirely possible that “Humorous” music represents a middle ground between wanting to play and or sing well and the complete failure of most of the population (myself included) to be able to do so.
Theory Y: The Weird Al Yankovic Theory
It’s entirely possible that the majority of “Comedy-Rock” artists are
complete and utter morons.
Just as it takes a T.S. Eliot to write The Waste Land (J. Alfred PrufROCKS!) while just about any moron can pen a dirty limerick, so is it also true that while it takes a Nick Cave to write Brompton Oratory, but any short bus-riding Bush appointee who can play G, C, and possibly D7th on the guitar can churn out a ditty about farts 2. And just as there is a bigger market out there for Beyonce than there is for the aforementioned Mr. Cave (or, if you prefer, more people will tune in to watch American Idol than to see Barbara Ehrenreich on Book TV), that song about farts and the inherent joy of farting will find a large, receptive, hooting audience of fart aficionados.
Theory Z: The Frank Zappa Theory
“Comedy-Rock” artists are actually smarter than their musical brethren.
In a widely criticized and highly misunderstood piece recently written for Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens argued that men are, indeed, much funnier than women (now you know why it was widely criticized). What many readers (and numerous people who claimed to have read the piece but instead spent the afternoon tasting shiny objects) overlooked was Hitchens’ emphasis on the role of evolution in humor.
While the majority of women are still hardwired to mate with the strongest male (the one burley enough to bring down a wooly mammoth), there is an evolutionary predisposition among women to mate with the males who are smart enough to organize a successful wooly mammoth hunt (Let’s see Dick Cheney bring down one of those suckers). One method of demonstrating intelligence is, of course, through wit.
So if you’re a moderately unattractive male (say, Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop) who can sing and gyrate across a stage then the transmission of your genes is pretty much a given. However, if you look like Frank Zappa (while I grew up on Mr. Zappa’s music and consider him a hero, I should state that I now find his body of work to be pretty much unlistenable) and have the vocal range of the Beastie Boys (undisputed geniuses) but still harbor dreams of playing hide the salami with countless young women, you’d better learn how to make a crowd laugh.
Here it is important to note that being the smartest person in a room full of musicians is tantamount to being the guy who can beat up even the toughest corpse: it ain’t that hard to do. In my nearly-a-decade-long career as a professional musician I met countless other musicians who were no smarter than the average houseplant. I would estimate the IQs of The Meat Puppets (whose music I have always loved), for example, to be comparable with that of a paramecium or flatworm.
1. Here are some authentic Sarah McLachlan lyrics for your consideration:
In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
Bwahahahaah. Is that shit hilarious or what?
2. Tour Story: While traveling the highways and byways of America, the Milkmen were subjected to countless “funny” opening acts, including one whose lead singer proudly proclaimed “We have a song about taking a crap in someone mailbox. Can you believe that?” No. No, we really couldn’t.